Sports Illustrated currently has a survey which lists the top football rivalry for each school as voted on by the fans. Some basketball bleeds over. Why is Duke getting any votes as a Maryland football rival? But most results seem pretty football specific. See North Carolina choosing NC State as the top rival.
For the 65 BCS teams, there are 34 teams in 17 mutual rivalries. These are rivalries where the fans of both teams say the other team is their primary rival. These are Cal – Stanford, UCLA – USC, Oregon – Oregon St., Arizona – Arizona St., OU – Texas, Missouri – Kansas, Auburn – Alabama, Georgia – Florida, Michigan – Ohio St., Indiana – Purdue, Minnesota – Wisconsin, Pitt – W. Virginia, UConn – Rutgers, UNC – NC State, Miami – FSU, Clemson – Georgia Tech, and Virginia – Virginia Tech
That leaves 31 teams where the rivalry is unrequited. Why do teams not have an obvious rival? For recently modified conferences, sometimes the conference rival is still a new concept. Lousville, South Florida, and Syracuse all consider West Virginia the top rival. But that probably has to do with West Virginia’s dominance since the forming of the new Big East, not a permanent rivalry. Other surprising one-sided rivalries require a lot more history to understand. See Tennessee fans listing Alabama.
There are examples where the hate shows a hierarchy. Texas Tech and Baylor consider Texas A&M the rival. A&M considers Texas the rival. And for Texas, it has to be Oklahoma. But sometimes there is no hierarchy. What about the lesser schools with multiple teams claiming them as rivals? Both Iowa and Wisconsin choose Minnesota. Both Virginia Tech and Maryland choose Virginia. Clearly geography is the most important factor. But why is Washington shunning Washington St. for Oregon. And why is Ole Miss choosing LSU over Mississippi St? Maybe recent poor performance can eliminate an in-state rival.
But what is the most unexplainable rivalry? To me, it has to be Illinois. Do Illinois fans pick Northwestern, their opponent in an annual rivalry game? Do they pick Iowa, Purdue, or Indiana, all within a bus ride? Do they pick Wisconsin, Michigan St., or Ohio St. based on some perceived basketball rivalry? No, Illinois fans top football rivalry pick is Michigan. Hey, I’ve lived in Champaign, and I still don’t get it.